YA Contemporary Fantasy: A DISHONEST GUIDE TO LYING Feb 4, 2017 15:15:27 GMT -5
Post by ashlaster on Feb 4, 2017 15:15:27 GMT -5
Chapter One ~ House of Dust
It wasn't a dark and stormy night. It wasn't even late afternoon. Despite that, the sight looming on the horizon fit perfectly into a ghost story. It was a house: dark, dreary, and desolate. The windows peered out like gloomy eyes, and the front steps were barely visible through piles of brown leaves.
"What do you think?" Ari’s mom parked the car and turned to her daughter. "A little paint, maybe a garden, and it'll be perfect."
Ari didn't mirror her mother's good mood. She tugged her brown hair into a ponytail and turned to stare out the window. Her mother, gardening. Right.
Her mom threw open her car door and jumped out into the chilly air. She hugged her arms around her middle and smiled up at the house. After a moment, she motioned for Ari to join her.
With a sigh, Ari pushed open her door. The strap of her messenger bag caught around her ankle, and an orange bottle labeled “Klonopin” tumbled into the floorboard. She grabbed the bottle, the pills inside rattling as if in invitation, and shoved it back into the bag. If her mom saw the bottle, she’d start asking questions. Things like, “Oh, honey, are you all right? Did you see her again?”
That was the last thing Ari wanted.
"Just look at it,” her mom said as Ari shuffled over. “It has our names written all over it: Judith and Marian.”
"Mom, you know I hate it when you call me that.” Ari kicked a clod of dirt, expecting it to skitter across the ground. It stuck to her toe instead.
"Of course I know, sweetie." She gave Ari's foot a playful nudge with her own. "And stop getting mud on your shoes."
Ari crossed her arms and gazed up at the ramshackle Victorian. The exterior of the house boasted echoes of a once-majestic home. A lacy, ornamental spindle topped a rounded tower, and raised, classical columns supported an immense porch. The angled roof sagged like wet cardboard. Faded blue paint peeled from the gingerbread trim, and a broken window gaped like a maw full of gleaming teeth.
"I guess it's okay," Ari said, trying to ignore the shabbiness.
She wished it was under different circumstances she'd come to be in Uncertain. “Texas' Best Kept Secret!” Or so the welcome sign had said. She believed it. The place looked like a ghost town.
For the thousandth time that day, Ari pulled her phone out of her pocket and glanced at the screen: no messages. She'd been checking it every half hour since they'd crossed the Texas State line.
"Give him time." Ari’s mom reached over and put her arm around her daughter’s shoulders. She smelled like jasmine—warm and citrusy and overwhelmingly sweet. "I know the divorce has been tough on you…"
Ari slipped her phone back into her pocket. "I don't need you to baby me, Mom."
A look of hurt flashed across her mother's face, and Ari inwardly winced. Before she could mumble an apology, a moving truck roared onto the driveway.
Her mom dropped her arm from around Ari’s shoulders. "Come on. We have work to do."
Ari followed her mother back toward a yellow-and-rust Honda, circa 1983. The rear passenger door screeched in protest as her mom pulled it open.
"I don't expect you to like Uncertain right away," she said as she reached into the backseat. "But I do expect you to give it a chance. Look at it this way: it's the start of something new."
"Something new,” Ari echoed. She fidgeted with the zipper on her jacket. What if she didn't want something new? This kind of change wasn't supposed to happen; adults were supposed to know what they wanted. That was why when you were a kid you said, "When I grow up…" Because by the time you were an adult, you were supposed to have it all figured out.
Ari’s mom handed her a cat carrier. "Take Bastet in the house. And please be careful. You know how cranky car rides make her."
"Won't she get in the way?" The carrier wasn’t heavy, but Ari gripped the handle with both hands.
"Of course not. She'll go wherever you go."
"That's kind of my point."
Ari’s mom pursed her lips. "Can't you do anything I ask without arguing?”
A hiss issued from the carrier. "Yes, ma'am." Ari carried Bastet inside and put her down in the living room. She pulled her sleeve over her hand and fumbled with the lock. The carrier door flew open. “Stay out of the way,” she shouted as Bastet hurtled into the kitchen. “And if you get your tail stepped on, don't come crying to me.”
Now that Bastet had been freed, Ari looked around the living room. The inside of the house was exactly what she'd expected. Cobwebs thick as knitting yarn decorated every corner, and everything, from the threadbare carpets to the moldering wallpaper, seemed drained of color, as if all light had been smothered from the place.
Ari headed back outside and began hefting in cardboard boxes. It wasn't long before Bastet appeared, following in Ari's footsteps like a glossy black shadow.
"Your bedroom is up the stairs, second door on the left," her mother said after they’d brought in her favorite flea market find—a three-foot tall knight in dingy armor.
Ari shouldered her messenger bag and picked up a box with her name scrawled across the side. Bastet leaped onto it. "Lazy cat." Ari kissed her on the ear and made her way out of the living room.
Worn burgundy carpet twisted up the stairs like a holey pathway. Each step groaned under Ari's feet, and she hugged the box closer to her chest. With her kind of luck she'd fall straight through into a colony of carnivorous spiders.
At the top of the stairs was a shadowy hallway. Ari kept her eyes on the left. One. Two. She shifted the box onto her hip, careful not to pitch Bastet onto the carpet, and opened the door.
Light spilled through two casement windows and across the floor in muted shades of gray. Above the window was a transom decorated like a spider's web. Or maybe the glass is coated with a real spider’s web. Ari shuddered and turned away. The wallpaper, a pastel shade of late-winter heather, added a soft wash of color.
Ari set the box down with a dull thunk. Bastet flexed her paws and took a moment to look around. Her eyes narrowed, as if to say, "This is our room?"
“It won't look so intimidating once everything is moved in,” Ari promised. She crossed the room, her footsteps echoing on the hardwood floor, and gazed out the window overlooking the back yard. A dogwood tree blocked most of her view. Even though the branches were leafless, she recognized the small clusters of bright red berries. She tapped her fingers against the glass. At least it wouldn't be long before she'd have something pretty to look at.
The door banged against the wall, and Ari jumped. Her mom carried in a box and set it on the floor. "Taking a break already?" She flopped down onto the box and blew a tawny strand of hair out of her face. “That’s not a bad idea.”
Ari scolded herself for her behavior earlier. Even though her mom tried not to show it, this move was hard on her too. It was in the little things she did when she thought Ari wasn't looking: staring at nothing with sad, empty eyes, biting her lip and creasing her forehead. Ari knew her mom only kept up a sunny disposition for her sake. The last thing Ari wanted to do was pile onto her mother's already mountainous heap of worries.
"Sorry, I was checking out my view. Do you need help downstairs?"
Her mom waved her off. “I’ve got everything under control." Her smile crumpled as a series of booms echoed through the house. “I only wish the movers did.”
Ari forced a laugh. It was difficult to act like everything was fine when her mother was around, and not because of the move. It wasn’t even because of the divorce.
Three months ago, Ari had been overheard talking to someone. That wouldn’t have been a problem, except her mother didn’t see “someone.” She saw no one.